Dealing with a Heart Attack

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This leaflet is created from first aid advice provided by St John Ambulance, the nation's leading first aid charity. This advice is no substitute for first aid training - find a training course near you.

A heart attack is most commonly caused by a sudden blockage of the blood supply to the heart muscle itself - for example, a blood clot. The main risk is that the heart will stop beating.

  1. Look for:
    • Persistent central chest pain - often described as vice-like or a heavy crushing pressure.
    • Pain spreading (radiating) to the jaw, neck and down one or both arms.
    • Breathlessness.
    • Discomfort high in the abdomen, similar to indigestion.
    • Possible collapse without warning.
    • Ashen skin and blueness at the lips.
    • Rapid, weak pulse which may be irregular.
    • Profuse sweating, skin cold to the touch.
    • Gasping for air (air hunger).
    • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  2. Sit them down:
    • Sit them in the 'W' position:
      • Semi-recumbent (sitting up at about 75° to the ground) with knees bent.
  3. Call for help:
    • Call 999/112/911 for emergency help and tell ambulance control you suspect a heart attack.
  4. Give an aspirin:
    • If available and not allergic, give them a 300 mg aspirin tablet to chew slowly (provided they are not under 16 years of age).
    • If they have any medication for angina, such as tablets or a spray, assist them to take it.
    • Constantly monitor and record breathing and pulse rate, until help arrives.
    • If they become unconscious, refer to the treatment for someone unconscious but breathing.

Note: these hints are no substitute for thorough knowledge of first aid. St John Ambulance holds first aid courses throughout the country.

Adapted from the St John Ambulance leaflet: heart attack. Copyright for this leaflet is with St John Ambulance.

Original Author:
St John Ambulance
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
St John Ambulance
Document ID:
28672 (v1)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
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